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Memories of Trinity, sixty five years ago

by Cecil V. Wikramanayake - Sunday Observer Mar 10, 2002

There are about six of us, seated on beds in Squeallery. We are the first arrivals at the beginning of the first term of 1938. I am what is termed a ‘New Boy". So are Rudra Rajasingham and Surat Singh, a towering Sikh from India. With the three of us are R. R. Rajaratnam and a few others. They start ragging Surat Singh, calling him "Suruttu".

I don’t quite remember how it started, but Surat Singh must have said something to Rajaratnam, a wiry lad half his size.

All I remember is that they were both standing. Suddenly there was a crack of a resounding slap, and Surat Singh was flat on the bed, rubbing his cheek and looking puzzled at Rajaratnam.

Peace, however, was soon restored and the two of them, I am happy to recall, were very good friends thereafter.

In the class one day, the teacher, the late Henry Kuruppu, known to us all as "aimless", (following an incident when he bumped into a lamp-post, stepped back, and absent-mindedly said "Sorry" and walked on), had been relating a story of the valiant little tailor who killed "seven at one blow" and had these words engraved on his belt. The seven dead in the story were flies, but the belt made no mention of this.

I was about the smallest chap in the class and I was promptly dubbed "Valiant Vicky." I was to prove my valour later by becoming a member of the college boxing team.

Somewhere in the middle of that first term, on a Sunday afternoon, I was dressed for the evening service in the Chapel, and in order to while away the time before the service began, I was loitering around the ‘duckpond’ as the Thomians called the Trinity College swimming pool.

In the water were Barney Raymond and Anderson, both classmates and both of them fully grown men, you could say. Without any warning, they had climbed out of the pool, grabbed me by my hands and feet and with a "One, two, three" swung me out and into the middle of the pool.

As I clambered out, dripping wet, they hooked it to their dormitory, while I made my dripping way back to Squeallery, to change. My Sunday best clothes had to be dried and I decided it would be a good excuse to miss Chapel.

A few non-Christians were seated on beds chatting. I joined them.

Suddenly there was a whispered warning. "Tusker Joe. Tusker’s coming". In a flash, I was under the bed.

Tusker Joe, alias Henry Joseph Kurukulaarachchi, our housemaster walked up to the boys. Finding they were all exempted from Chapel, he turned back to go to his room, when he observed Surat Singh giggling like a schoolgirl.

"What are you laughing about? questioned Tusker Joe.

"Sir, Valiant Vicky is hiding under the bed" blurted out Surat Singh in between more giggles.

Valiant Vicky crawled out from his hiding place and meekly followed Tusker Joe to his room, expecting six of the best.

Tusker Joe listened to his story of being pushed into the pool by some big boys, and then asked "Do you know who pushed you in?"

"No Sir" lied Valiant Vicky, who was quite fond of Barney. A friendship that lasted till Barney’s death many years later.

Long years later, when Tusker Joe was on his last legs, he told me, "When you refused to name the boys who threw you into the pool, I was annoyed with you. But I was also proud of you."

He said he knew who the culprits were because he had seen them dashing off to their dormitory in their swimming trunks, but he agreed that a gentleman does not snitch on his fellows.

It was at Trinity that I was introduced to the ‘rowdy game played by gentlemen’ — Rugby football. Quite a different one from Association football, or Soccer, which, I had been told was a "gentlemen’s game played by rowdies".

I took to Rugger like a duck takes to water, perhaps because, despite my lack of height, breadth and weight, I was a rowdy at heart. My small size soon found me a place in the House team as a scrum-half, and sometimes as fly-half — both places requiring speed and agility rather than size.

Rugger, swimming, cricket and hockey, as well as Fives and Squash — played in the court behind the carpentry shed, provided much interest outside the class hours, with little time for brooding and feeling homesick.

Part of the school curriculum included lessons in printing, book-binding and carpentry and these gave added zest to studying even the humdrum subjects like Readin’, Ritin’ and Rithmetic.

Classes in Latin, the second language, were taken by Jock Graham Young, a Scotsman who walked on the balls of his feet, looking very pantherish. No wonder then he earned the sobriquet of "Hora Kotiya".

Jock Young’s method of teaching Latin was about the best I have ever experienced. I had, at S. Thomas’ College, heard the verse "Latin is a dead language. Dead as dead could be. It killed the ancient Romans. And now it’s killing me."

With Jock Young, Latin was far from a dead language. He began his class by giving everyone a Roman name. I was Remus, and Hector (Foghorn) Kulugammana, who sat next to me, was Romulus. What a pity I cannot remember the names of the other boys.

As he entered the classroom, Young would call out "Salvete". We would all stand up and respond "Salve Magister". And from that moment, till the bell rang and he said "Valete" and we responded "Vale Magister", every word spoken in class was in Latin.

For instance, if I could not follow what was going on, I would put up my hand and say "O Magister. Me non intellego" and the teacher would explain once more what I did not understand.

When he said "Recite (pronounced Rekitay), Reme!" I would stand up and read aloud from the Virgil in my hand. I believe all of us who learned our Latin from Jock Young not only shone in that subject but improved our English as well.

Jock Young was also a fine boxer, and the only photograph of myself at Trinity is that of the boxing team, led by Leslie Handunge (then Perera) with Jock Young in the centre.